As fans of the Badgers, and let’s be honest, Badgers basketball as well, we know heartbreak all too well. To an extent, we should be happy that we’ve had opportunities to be heartbroken, as it means there have been multiple close calls with serious triumph. With the football team, in particular, greatness has always seemed to be just out of reach.
At first glance, there aren’t many positives from this season after six games. As an occasionally emotional badgers fan myself, it isn’t easy to look at the program holistically. Once you do it, though, you realize there is plenty to be excited about.
The Bad about the Badgers
With Mertz trying to get his feet under him and injuries to key playmakers outside, it didn’t seem like many devout fans were surprised to see struggles last season. The 2020 season was rough for many due to covid, badgers included. With the playing time that many young players got, expectations were high coming into the 2021 season.
If you were frozen in time and watched the 2020 season and then the 2021 season, you’d think they were the same. The badgers have suffered from an anemic offense while being home to one of the best defenses in the country. Even though the offense has been boring over the years, the defense has been what we can count on. Jim Leonard has done a fantastic job of implementing a system and recruiting players who perform well.
The offense has become more one-dimensional than a run-first team should be. The offensive line hasn’t been as good as expected. There has been turmoil in the RB room, and the receivers haven’t gotten many good opportunities. Not to mention that the quarterback play has been bad more often than not.
Even though Chryst has gotten much love over the years, he has come under fire (maybe an understatement) this season. His play-calling has lacked creativity, and the offense has been behind the sticks more often than not early in drives. Is this because his hands are tied with Mertz, or have defenses adapted to his style of offense?
Final thoughts on the Bad
Finally, for the first time in as long as I can remember as a badger fan, the special teams have been a negative difference in multiple games. The inability to do the little things right has resulted in game-changing plays when Wisconsin was very much in games. These issues have cost the badgers points and chances at good field positions, whether it be run-backs allowed, muffed kicks, or not knowing when to fair catch versus letting it go.
The Good about the Badgers
Even though all of this sounds extremely disappointing, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. For starters, the badgers have had some impressive recruiting classes as of late. For a program known for doing more with less, the idea of them getting more is exciting, to say the least. Their ability to turn 3-star recruits into true NFL candidates is impressive and a great recruiting tool.
The loss of Berger was tough after he impressed last season, but it has opened the door for highly-touted freshman Braelon Allen. His emergence has given some life to the offense, albeit against less than stellar defenses. The 1-2 punch of Mellusi and Allen will be fun to watch over the next year and a half, or until Allen just takes over on his own.
Lost pieces and recruitment
After this season, there are some significant losses due to graduation, but most of the losses can be filled with promising freshmen or sophomores. The defense continues to find ways to fill holes after key departures, and the product on the field brings the same or very similar results.
On the outside, the loss of Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor next season will hurt initially, but it may be for the better in the long run. Neither has reached their perceived potential, and the need to develop young talent outside is there. With some solid talent committing to Wisconsin, there’s potential to see some improved receiver results finally. Markus Allen is a name to keep an eye on next year and beyond as he’ll have plenty of chances to line up opposite of impressive sophomore Chimere Dike.
We also can’t forget about NFL prospect Jake Ferguson. As the grandson of Barry Alvarez (drink), he has lived up to the hype on the field. Like the receivers, he has had limited opportunities to shine, but many view him as a next-level player. Just because the numbers aren’t there doesn’t mean the talent isn’t.
The Defense has been fantastic
We can’t forget about that defense either. They have been on the field a lot this year but continue to put up impressive numbers. Even in the games, when the opponents have hung some ugly numbers, some of it is due to offensive turnovers and bad special teams play. This defense has kept Wisconsin in every game they’ve played until the 4th quarter. The only critique you could have is lack of turnovers, but even that is a bit greedy.
The Badgers have consistently developed players at LB, RB, and OL over the years. However, outside of that, there hasn’t been much consistency. Sure there are a few talents outside of that, but QB isn’t one of them (Wilson doesn’t count as he was only here for one year and was already good).
The lack of high-end quarterback play has kept the badgers from reaching the CFP time and time again. Mertz was supposed to change all of that, but after 2+ years on campus, he still looks like a one-dimensional player. The positive is, he’s still young in the grand scheme of things. If everything does click, the badgers potentially have two years with a plus QB.
Final thoughts on the Good
The floor is always extremely high for the badgers’ thanks to a dominant defense. Even with questionable QB play and extremely poor special teams play, they are still a very competitive team in a tough conference. If Mertz does eventually have that “aha” moment, this team will be scary!
What’s next for this Badgers?
Even if Mertz never develops, there is some potential on the roster and coming next season. Deacon Hill is a player that saw his stock rise dramatically after he committed to the badgers and is only a freshman. 2022 commit Myles Burkett is also intriguing as a slightly more mobile quarterback that has impressed down the stretch of his high school career. The biggest opportunity could be in 2023 to recruit Avery Johnson out of Maize, Kansas, if he chooses the Badgers.
Between the highly touted OL commits, the steady stream of defensive potential Leonard brings in, the improved receiving talent joining the fray, and the incredible upside of Braelon Allen, even the most pessimistic fans should be somewhat excited. Maybe the badgers need a change in offensive philosophy. Perhaps they just need a steady presence under center. Either way, there will be enough talent on this team for years to make them borderline contenders.
For how dramatic some of the tweets have been about this year’s team and the program overall, the Badgers still control their own destiny to reach the conference title game. Yes, there have been struggles, but this team is only 1 or 2 pieces away from getting to where the fans think they should be. With big games remaining against Purdue and Iowa, Wisconsin can change the narrative of this season by hitting their stride when it counts. It’s not all doom and gloom in Madison, regardless of their record and what Twitter may indicate.